Category Archives: art

Writing Process: NaNoWriMo and Me

I’ve been meaning to write about my writing process for quite a while now and am surprised, looking back through my blog archives, that I have not yet addressed it.

This post could alternately be titled “How NaNoWriMo Enabled Me to Write My Dissertation in Three and a Half Months” or “The Importance of NaNoWriMo for Academic Writing.” Or just “Do NaNoWriMo at Least Once, People.”

NaNoWriMo stands for “National Novel Writing Month” and has been going since the turn of the twenty-first century. I’ve done it myself since 2002, most years. No, I don’t have a published novel, and in fact I only finished two of them in that time. (And the first one didn’t even “win” — the only criterion for winning is having a file containing 50,000 words — because it came in about 40,000 words when it was done. Oh well. My best and first finished work, so I’m cool with it. In fact, I’m still working on revising that work and trying to cut a version of it into a 10,000-word short story.) But man, what I got out of it.

NaNoWriMo taught me how to write. I don’t mean how to write well, or grammar or mechanics or plot or anything like that. It taught me how to put words on the page. And, after all, that is the first step to writing something. You have to just start making words. Continue reading Writing Process: NaNoWriMo and Me

ruins – the past, the real, the monumental, the personal

Did I ever tell you about one of my favorite buildings in the world? It’s a public housing project named Kaigan-dori Danchi 海岸通り団地 (not to be confused with the type of projects one finds in the US, it was perfectly desirable housing in its time). This particular danchi (“community housing” or – generally public – housing project) was located smack in the middle of the richest section of Yokohama, between Kannai and Minato Mirai, perhaps one of the richest areas of the Tokyo region. Here it is in all its dirty, dirty glory, with Landmark Tower in the background.

Yes. This is Kaigan-dori Danchi, one of the grossest “ruins” (haikyo 廃墟) I had ever seen. Or, I thought it was a ruin. You know, an abandoned building. Because it looked too much like a shell to be anything else.

Then I got a message on Flickr.

In it, the messager wrote that he grew up in Kaigan-dori Danchi and now lives in New York City. He advised me that yes, it’s still inhabited, and thanked me for putting so many photos of it on Flickr. (Yes, I went for a photo shoot of this complex, more than once – hey, it was on my walk home from school!) He felt nostalgic at seeing his boyhood home and was interested to see what it looked like now.

In other words, what I’d felt vaguely strange about as some kind of ruins voyeurism – the same kind of ruins porn that takes hold of nearly everyone who wants to take photos of Detroit, for example – turned out to be a two-way street. It wasn’t pure voyeurism; it was a way to connect with someone who had a direct experience of the past of this place, a place that was still alive and had a memory and a history, rather than being some monstrosity out of time – as I’d been thinking of it. I saw it as a monument, not an artifact.

So this was in 2008, a half year after I’d become obsessed with Japanese urban exploration photography, which was enjoying a boom in the form of guidebooks, a glossy monthly magazine, calendars, DVDs, tours, photo books, and more, in Japan at the time. (Shortly thereafter, and I CALLED IT, came the public housing complex boom. I do have some of the photo books related to this boom too, because there’s nothing I love more than a good danchi.)

As part of the research for a presentation I gave on the topic for my Japanese class at IUC that year, I’d done some research into websites about ruins in Japan (all in Japanese of course). These were fascinating: some of them were just about the photography, but others were about reconnecting with the past, posting pictures of old schools and letting former classmates write on the guestbooks of the sites. There was a mixi (like myspace) group for the Shime Coal Mine (the only landmark of the first town I’d lived in in Japan). The photo books, on the other hand, profoundly decontextualized their objects and presented them as aesthetic monuments, much the way I’d first viewed Kaidan-dori Danchi.

So I wonder, with ruins porn a genre in the United States and Europe as well, do we have the same yearning for a concrete, real past that some of these sites and photographers exhibit, and not just vague nostalgia for the ruins of something that never existed? How much of ruins photography and guidebooks are about the site in context – the end point of a history – and how much is just about “hey I found this thing”? How much of this past is invented, never existed, purely fantasy, and how much of it is real, at least in the minds of those who remember it?

These are answers I don’t yet have, but I’ve just begun on this project. In the meantime, I’m happy to share Kaigan-dori Danchi with you.

instagram, photoshop, and publicity rights”

There has been a bit of a furor over Instagram’s new terms of service, in which I unwittingly took part – well, perhaps half unwittingly. I jumped on the bandwangon of outraged Instragram users and posted directions on how to delete your account and backup your photos on my Twitter, before getting the news (also via Twitter) that they’re backtracking on the offending language of being able to give your photos, profile information, geolocation information, and other metadata to advertisers (‘third parties’) for their use, without compensation, presumably in advertising (‘enhanced advertising’ if you will). I seriously considered deleting my account, despite my abject love of the service. As a semi-professional photographer, it’s been amazing for getting my photos online quickly, taking more shots than I would otherwise, and self-promotion. I’d be very sad to have to leave.

Yet some of the furor has been over people worrying that their kids’ photos would be used without their knowledge or compensation, even if they were private photos. I’d like to take this chance to remind people of publicity rights, the right to not have one’s likeness used to  promote products or otherwise, without their permission. This applies to everyone, not just celebrities. So the use of kids’ photos without permission is flat-out illegal and Instagram could be sued for doing so; given this, it’s extraordinarily unlikely that this would ever happen. People worried about kids’ or friends’ or family’s photos have nothing to worry about.

Still, there is some pushback on the part of media companies who want to use your photos as they see fit. (Note also that we all need to be reminded that we still hold our copyrights – what we’re granting is a non-exclusive license, not a copyright transfer, so people need to not be flipping out about this either. You still own your stuff.) Quoted from an article I came across:

Right of publicity laws protect people, both celebrities and everyday citizens, from having their names or photos used for commercial purposes. However, using a person’s name or photo for news reports is not a violation of these laws, according to the Digital Journalist’s Legal Guide , which was produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. 

In fact, Facebook defended its “sponsored stories” as “newsworthy” in the California lawsuit, saying that people’s brand preferences should be considered “news” to their Facebook friends.

The fact that Facebook is arguing that this is “news” is interesting and disturbing. I really hope they lose this lawsuit, because otherwise this would be a massive blow to publicity rights, and thus people’s control over their own likenesses. This is an important right in terms of privacy, one that predates the digital world, and is crucial to people’s sense of self-determination. I am going to be following this story closely, although it turns out that Facebook wants to settle a class-action lawsuit that would give only $10 to each offended individual. That is, in a word, wack.

But for the meantime, worry about services using non-likeness photos, because hopefully Facebook will lose and we will only be left with the serious issue of terms of service dictating non-exclusive licenses of copyrighted material.

What I’d really like to see is a lawsuit involving that, to see if terms of service are actually binding contracts, but I haven’t heard of any court cases of this nature so far. I’d like to hear from my readers who are more knowledgable than I am in this area, and who may have heard of court cases pending that might answer this question for me.

creativity, goals, and the dissertation

I’ve been consulting some books on art-making lately, that you could broadly say are on that nebulous idea of “creativity” itself. (Art and Fear is the most well known of them and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s the best tiny book you’ll ever own.) As I’ve read more, I have realized that they apply not only to my artistic life – my life outside of the “work” of research and writing – but also to my current writing project as well. In other words, writing a dissertation, essentially a non-fiction book, is a creative undertaking of great magnitude and can be considered with the same principles in mind as would a painting or a composition or a mathematical theory.  (Fill in your creative path here.)

This was a revelation for me, despite the fact that I engage in drawing, painting, and creative writing as a part of my life: why would non-fiction writing for my “real job” not be creative work as well, and best approached with the same attitudes? Why  not?

So one thing that comes out of this is the issue of the goal. Art and Fear talks about this one and I’d honestly never considered it before. The goal often sounds like this: have a solo show, or get a piece in MoMA, or get a book published, or whatever. The problem arises that when the artist is successful and meets that goal, art-making can often cease completely, forever, because the goal has been met and there is no direction anymore, and nothing to aim for.

This book in particular recommends that goals should be more along the lines of “find a group of like-minded artists and share work with them.” Things that won’t be attained in a single moment, but that continue for the rest of your life.

It made me realize that yes, as a scholar, I have an end goal right now, and that is finishing my dissertation. After that, it’s a few articles, a monograph. But then what? And I don’t have a good answer for that. Thus, I am at high risk for becoming the same as the writer who quits after her first bestselling novel, adrift without an ongoing goal.

I wonder how scholars deal with this (I may just go and ask a few of them), but I think for myself, I’ve found a seed of it in a digital humanities project I’m dreaming up but haven’t had time to start implementing yet. It’s one that is less about content and more about opening up possibilities for exploring questions in ways that didn’t exist before, and to experiment with new methodologies that wouldn’t have traditionally come from my discipline. Sure, it’s building a database. But then it’s what to do with that database that’s the real project.

At the same time, I think a huge issue both in the arts and the academic humanities is that of solitude. I am not saying anything new here. Right now, a colleague and I are planning on co-authoring an article and attempting to get it published (please cross your fingers for us). I think it may be in my best interests, more than anything else, to keep in close touch with this person who works on things that are similar to my own work, and to keep picking up those business cards I like to collect from people I meet at conferences who are interested in my research for some reason, and routinely emailing them. My database project is something I want to leave open source and twist others’ arms to take part in. So I’m thinking now, as I’m nearing the end of my PhD course, where to start with the idea of forming a like-minded group to continue to share and collaborate with. To keep the end goal always moving and yet always fulfilled, because it is within myself and other people, and not just about me and something outside of me.

the internet is free for the taking

Right? Right?

As I sometimes find when I check out my Flickr statistics, I’ve got a picture with an abnormally high view count and that means only one thing: it’s been posted on another site with a link to mine.

Usually, I am totally thrilled. I love links back to me. I love for people to see my work and that anyone liked it enough to put it up on their own personal space. Good!

And 9 times out of 10, there is a nice caption with my name under it. For, this is the only thing I really ask of someone using one of my photos. I hold the copyright, but I use a Creative Commons license.* I am leaning toward changing everything to a more lenient one, but in any case, the real point of it is the “BY” clause.

You can use my photos without permission as long as you credit me (and I appreciate a link back to Flickr, which all of the people so far, good and bad, do – this is how I find their postings). I’m sure there are people out there who posted them with no link, but it seems that they generally want to not host the image themselves, and also want to post a small version with a link to the gigantic ones (and mine are non-watermarked full-size images). So I find them in my stats.

This is only the second case of someone borrowing an image, placing it on their site with absolutely no credit at all, and totally making me annoyed at 7:30 am in the morning when I see it happening.

The first time, it was an architecture blog and site, which will remain nameless because they rectified the problem after I commented on the photo (there was no other way to contact!) asking for credit or to take the image down. I never heard back, but lo and behold, after a few months someone must have saw the comment because now it has a very nice caption. I get a fair number of hits from this site so it makes me very happy.

Well, now some person on Tumblr has stuck one of my images in their blog, at least with a link back to the original, but with no caption at all. I hate that. But what makes it really bad is that I can see visibly how many people “liked” and shared the post. “Great, others are seeing my work!” Yes, there is this part of it. I’m not the kind of person who wants to hide my stuff unless I personally am showing it. Far from it!

But here’s the thing that really upsets me. The people sharing this post are sharing it as the work of that blogger – at the very best, as an object found by that blogger. They may be sharing it because they like the photo, but the implied attribution stops at the blog itself. I’m thinking big-picture about “authorship” here, as I am wont to do. I have stopped being the author at this point, without an explicit caption marking it as not the blogger’s work, and not as some anonymous, possibly public-domain thing that he or she happened to find. Something pointing out that the hard creative work was not, in fact, looking on the internet and finding something interesting and sharing it, but was rather my finding the scene, situating myself, taking the picture, editing in Aperture, and creating more metadata than you can shake a stick at. (As usual.)

And on top of it? As you can see from the two screenshots below the cut, these are not only being viewed quite a few times, but they’re being shared – ie., reposted as-is on other Tumblr blogs, also with zero attribution.

A reaction that I have gotten in the past to someone lifting my artwork (including selling it on a T-shirt without permission, even though they defended it with “but we’re not making a profit) is that I’m getting bent out of shape over nothing, or that I can’t expect my work not to be stolen and re-used as people see fit because I’ve put it online.

Here is my response to that: Of course I can’t. But that doesn’t make it right, just, or legal, and I don’t give up my rights the minute I upload something. I am well within my moral rights to address this as a problem and to take polite action to correct the situation. We need a lot of calming down these days: We don’t need laws like SOPA and Protect-IP (I am getting nightmares), and I don’t think the DMCA is an appropriate law either, but that doesn’t mean that taking others’ work and reposting it without attribution – or passing it off as your own, or selling it without permission – is okay.

I think we academics know a word that comes quite close to describing all of this: plagiarism. Mixed with copyright infringement. What a fun situation.

Conclusion: The internet is not free for your taking. But the majority of it is, especially from those of us who are rabidly pro-Creative Commons, if you just ask us.

 

* I toyed once with making all of my photos public domain, but while I’m still alive and while they’re still taken within the past 5 years, I don’t think I can emotionally deal with it yet.

Screen shot 2011 11 17 at 8 44 43 AM

Screen shot 2011 11 17 at 8 44 24 AM

Screen shot 2011 11 17 at 8 37 25 AM

new manga: a bride’s story

I was clued in to a newly translated manga by Mori Kaoru via Feministe: A Bride’s Story, the tale of an arranged marriage set in 19th-century central Asia.

'A Bride's Story' cover, vol. 1
A Bride's Story, vol. 1

 

To summarize briefly, it is the story of a woman sent to a neighboring village in an arranged marriage – naturally, without meeting her new husband first. It turns out that she is 20 and he is 12, making the situation even more awkward than usual. I haven’t ordered a copy yet (the first volume came out May 31, 2011), but between the detailed, grand artwork and the fascinating premise, I’m looking forward to reading it myself.

Beyond having a relatively unique setting and focus (I hear that much time is spent on women’s lives and communities within the villages), I have to say I’m in love with the role reversal. An arranged marriage of a young woman and older man is too familiar, and the surprise of the same age would be too boring, too ideal. To reverse the aspect of arranged marriage that can be most scandalous to Western (European and North American) sensibilities – the age difference – is the most intriguing part of the story.

What typically happens in a tale of older man, younger woman (even girl)? Not all situations are painted in a positive light, but I can think of few cases in which the younger party is not tremendously sexualized, far beyond what is often considered appropriate. (Then again, given the sexualization of even young teenagers in contemporary America – let alone historically – maybe this is not so surprising.) Sex is assumed no matter how young the bride. And rare are the stories – fiction, I’m talking about here – where the relationship doesn’t take on a weirdly romantic cast, or even an explicit gradual romance.

I’m looking at you here, Shining Genji. I was once in a graduate-level course and the professor threw out the question: what was it that happened to Murasaki? Unbelievably a woman in the room threw out “grooming” as the answer. Grooming for ideal sexuality. The professor cut her right off with “statutory rape at best.” Thank you. But if this could be the automatic answer for such a sick situation, one that is portrayed romantically even by a woman writer in 1000 AD – well, doesn’t that say something about conditioning?

In any case, I’m giving this background to highlight the unique situation of a much older bride and a groom that is still a child. I would argue that although this happens, we don’t have such an automatic social narrative for their relationship. If someone talked about “grooming” with regard to the boy, we would cut them off with “no, it’s sick. THAT is sick to even imagine.” Right? It’s creepy. I think that we’re more ready to imagine a developing romantic relationship between a much younger girl and an older man – I’ll dig up our favorite Shining Genji raising Murasaki to be his future wife as my example again. Can we imagine this bride in A Bride’s Story raising her child husband to be the perfect sexual object in the same way? I would say no. No way.

So I’m very interested to get my hands on this manga to see how this is treated. From the Feministe post, I gather that there is a warm relationship with a fondness developing on the part of the bride. But I would like to see for myself: there is no way she can’t participate in raising the boy, in some way, as an older woman who has come into his family’s home. But what is her role, and what is the intention? Does she raise him as a loving family member would raise any boy to be a proper man, or does she have something else invested in it, a la Genji and his child bride?

We’ll see. If any of you have read this in Japanese, let me know your thoughts. (Incidentally, I would kill to be able to go to Book Off right now and just buy this series used!)

literature in fashion

Now here’s something you don’t see every day – a photoshoot dedicated to literary-inspired fashion in Vogue.

‘Summer Reading Inspired by the Fall Collections’

Oh wait, of course, I have that the other way around. Some creative Vogue employee(s) actually dreamed up novels FOR these outfits.

Now that is impressive. Seriously!

Being that I’m in Nebraska for the summer, I did a cheer for Willa Cather and My Antonia. The first one at that!

A Creative Endeavor

… or How I Will Drive Myself Slowly Over the Edge

So people talk about there being some kind of nuanced difference between nerd, geek, and dork. I’ve been sucked into it myself, sadly, and as a result I get a little defensive when I am called anything other than a nerd. By any criteria, I really am, and was way before it became ironic-cool to wear thick plastic glasses. (Just check out my fourth grade yearbook.)

I think my own personal nuance is the difference between dork (no social skills), geek (geeking out over things, becoming obsessed with things), and nerd (likes learning for its own sake and often enjoys academics as a hobby, leading to social ostracism and a joy of doing homework). Well, of course all of these things overlap in any person, but the traits of the last manifest quite clearly in me, for better or worse.

Case in point?

This summer I’m working at an internship in Lincoln, Nebraska, and had to pack one car and go (with all of my cat’s things too, so I lost some space). No bringing my ever-expanding book collection with me. I got a Kindle to read Gutenberg.org books on, but still, it would be nice to have some kind of summer project that isn’t a work assignment. A dual degree will do that to you: any kind of scheduled free time becomes exciting and a chance to either take on something with a limited deadline and feel satisfied, or lay around and do a lot of nothing. I try to do both.

So here is my project. I picked up a copy of Seven Languages in Seven Weeks and decided to work through it in the evenings after work. Yes. I am giving myself seven weeks of programming assignments. I’m going to be learning entirely new languages, some I have heard of and some I haven’t. I get a little cheating on one because I am semi-comfortable in Lisp. Still. I will learn a little of each: Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Haskell, and Clojure. I am excited about the prospect and not only do I want to learn because it’s fun and programming is fun for the brain (when it’s not hurting your brain, and when you’re not banging your head on the desk) – but also because I think it will be good for my creativity.

After all, creativity is not limited to one domain. Practicing writing helps me think more freely about photography, keeping a journal helps every aspect of my life, keeping daily notes about my dissertation inspires me to reexamine my artistic life (it helps that I write about authors and practices of writing). And there is something about exercising the brain with logic and problem-solving that is refreshing and at least interesting, and often rewarding, after you (I) spend almost all of my work life reading, and writing about stuff I read. Making art is one kind of problem-solving; programming is another.

Both are all about creativity and stretching the brain a little bit further.

But yes, it is seven weeks of daily programming in a set of languages I haven’t used before. I just taught myself Java in three days and then wrote a non-trivial application in it for a class project, and I’m somewhat exhausted. For my internship, my life is going to be all about getting better with XML and TEI, and then learning how to fit XSLT and XPath into the picture, while working with a servlet, which I have never even had to consider before. Good god, I am all about the computer this summer. It’s great.

I’ll have to stop the extracurricular programming if I feel a nervous breakdown coming on. Until then, onward to Prolog!

photography and the real

originally published 2010.03.02 at http://mali-in-japan.livejournal.com/49238.html

Regarding this article (okay, David Pogue’s blog entry) in today’s New York Times: Photoshop and Photography: When Is It Real?

So, the basic issue here is – when does photography cross the line from “photography” to, well something else? Something “fake” or set up or constructed? In other words, to put it in the simpler words of the headline – when is it photography and when is it just Photoshop?
Continue reading photography and the real

read the fine print, part I: CJS photo contest

Today, I received a call for submissions for a photography contest run annually by my university’s Center for Japanese Studies. I’ve always put this to the side before, but since photography is one of my main activities in life, I looked into it today.

(Aside: this is going to be a two-parter in the interest of space. The other issue this brought up for me was that whole “photography and the real” that I posted about a few months ago. Coming soon.)

The two main questions I had were, of course, could I submit more than one photo, and more important, did acceptance of the photo in the contest come with a price?

Of course, what I’m talking about here are my intellectual property rights as an artist.

Continue reading read the fine print, part I: CJS photo contest